The nervous system of the human can be divided into two parts: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal cord; the peripheral nervous system consists of a network of nerve fibers, like cables, that transmit information to and from the body’s organs to and from the brain.
The central nervous system is well protected by bony structures; the brain is protected by the skull and the spinal cord is protected by the bones of the spinal column.
The central nervous system is also covered and protected by three layers of tissue called the meninges. The layers are called the dura mater, the arachnoid, and the pia mater.
A head injury is a traumatic injury to the head that may result in injury to soft tissue, bony structures, or the brain.
A traumatic brain injury is a severe head injury that can be a life threat or leave the patient with life-altering injuries.
The cervical, thoracic, and lumbar portions of the spinal column can be injured through compression such as in a fall, unnatural motions such as overextension from trauma, distraction such as from a hanging, or a combination of mechanisms. Each of these can also cause injury to the spinal cord encased in these regions of bone, causing permanent neurologic injury or death.
Motor vehicle crashes, direct blows, falls from heights, assault, and sports injuries are common causes of spinal injury. A patient who has experienced any of these events may have also sustained a head injury.
Treat the patient with a head injury according to three general principles that are designed to protect and maintain the critical functions of the central nervous system: establish an adequate airway, control bleeding, and reassess the patient’s baseline level of consciousness.
Treat the patient with a spinal injury by maintaining the airway while keeping the spine in proper alignment, assess respirations, and give supplemental oxygen.
In those situations in which your patient has problems with the ABCs or has other conditions for which you decide a rapid transport to the hospital is needed, rapid stabilization of the spine and quick loading into the ambulance may be indicated. Reduction of on-scene time and recognition of a critical patient increases the patient’s chances for survival or a reduction in the amount of irreversible damage.